Her face sagged unto her chest as it rose and fell with each labored breath. I stood in the doorway watching her, a deep sadness growing in my heart. If I entered the room I would be admitting that she was old, far older than I’d remembered. I felt a desperate urge to run for my car and drive away, leaving this image of my elderly Omi (grandmother) while clutching the picture of her younger self in my mind.
I hadn’t seen my Omi in nearly two years and frankly, it was long past time. There were many factors that had kept me from making the six hour drive, but many of those issues have since passed. The children and I loaded up early Saturday morning and began a trip that would take us through sun, rain, hail, and yes, even snow. I hate driving in snow and snow in April in Oregon is just silly.
Weather aside; it was a long, uneventful drive. How different it is to travel with older children, than with babies. My mind was drawn back to memories of this same drive years ago with car seats and diaper bags instead of IPods and Greek textbooks. Now if I could just get one of them to drive…
After a bit of searching and a quick call to my brother, we located the adult care home where my Omi has lived for the last two years. It is a beautiful home, soft yellow with white trim. It stood sparkling in the foreground of the Pacific Ocean. As we entered the building I waited for the strong sent of “rest home” to slap me in the face, but it never did. Instead, we found ourselves in a wide open space. The lobby adjoined the dinning room and television area while pictures and colorful plants were displayed around the room. It was silent and the delicious aroma of lunch floated from the kitchen that stood to the left of the main doors.
It was also empty. Not a soul in sight. There was no bell to ring or “Back in five minutes” sign to tell us what to do. So, we waited. After a moment, a lady came out of the kitchen and asked if she would help us. I told her I was looking for my Omi and gave her the name. She frowned,
“She’s not here. She’s in the hospital.”
Wonderful. My heart jumped half an inch and asked for direction to the hospital. I wasn’t completely surprised that she was in the hospital, she is after all 83-years-old, but I admit to being a bit miffed that no one phoned us. There are only two emergency phone numbers in my Omi’s file; mine and my brothers. Before I could fester up a good head of steam, I considered that Omi had told them not to call. She’s like that, not wanting to worry anyone.
So, there I stood, watching her sleep. The years hadn’t been kind to her body but I knew her mind was still sharp as a tack. She was happy living at the rest home, far away from her daughter, my mother. Throughout the years of squabble, I’ve done my best to stay out of the middle of it. What goes on between this mother and daughter has nothing to do with me, or at least that is the lie I’ve clung to.
I placed my hand on her face and said, “Omi?”
Her eyes flickered open and she straightened up, looking at me. I could see recognition in her eyes, but also a sense of forgetfulness.
“Do you know who I am?”
“I know who you are,” she smiled, but I could tell she wasn’t sure.
I called the kids in and as soon as she saw them she lit to life. She knew these two! “How they’ve grown!” she said. Here was my Omi, alert, smiling. She’s only been hiding in that old woman who was sleeping in that hospital bed.
Our visit lasted only the weekend but I spent as much time at her side as I could. We talked about so many things and I rejoiced to see my Omi laugh and joke. I also noted her slowness, her struggling to find the correct word, and her inability to move her legs. My bright, beautiful, witty, German Omi is trapped in a body that occasionally ignores her wants or needs. But she’s there, just behind those pale blue eyes.
She told me the story of how she learned to drive, how my Grandpa had called her a “shiftless woman” because she had such trouble driving. He solved the problem by buying her an automatic saying, “Here is a shiftless car for my shiftless woman.”
Yet, there was one thing that has bothered me for some time now. I am the only Christian in my family; neither my brothers nor my parents share my faith. I could tell you all sorts of gory details, but this isn’t Jerry Springer, so you’ll have to let your mind wander over ideas. Demons, monsters, and goblins, oh my!
My Omi was raised in a very devout Roman Catholic family. When she married her handsome American GI and came to live in the US, she left the church and all that it stood for in the dust of Germany. The only times she’d set foot in church was on weddings and funerals and now as she inches forward towards her own funeral, I couldn’t help but wonder about her faith. She told me she’d been going to church (when the weather is nice) so I asked, “What do you think of that church?”
It turned out that she is attending the same Baptist church my husband and I have attended when we are in the area. They have a ministry to the rest home and offer a Bible study on Thursdays. “I like the Thursdays best,” she confided.
“It’s different from the Roman Catholic church, huh?”
“Yes, I like it.”
“So, Omi, when you die, will you go to heaven?”
Looking me straight in the eye she said firmly, “I’m trying.”
I smiled, happy to see those flames behind her eyes. We talked about the work that Jesus did and how salvation is through Him alone. I was surprised when she reminded me about an incident that happened a few years ago, when she had contemplated suicide.
“I think He stopped me,” she whispered.
“I think so too and I’m glad he did!”
“Me too!” she chuckled.
My Omi hasn’t been released from the hospital and the physical therapist is making her work hard, but I know now that either way, she’ll be alright. One day, perhaps sooner than I think, she’ll leave that wheelchair behind and run the fields of Glory free from the chains of her earthly body.
For now, I like to think of her in that red, shiftless car, motoring around the town. I can almost see her, strawberry blonde hair flying, sky blue eyes winking, and that flirty smile being thrown about like hundred dollar bills.
Now, that’s the Omi I remember.